In the middle of day one of FIREFEST I was enjoying a nice late afternoon pint round the corner from Nottingham Rock City when I overheard someone saying “oh, it’s that bloody Firefest again, I’d go along, but £100 for a weekend, what a f’kin’ rip off”. Well partner, get your facts straight ’cause this ain’t no rip off. FIREFEST is run by the fans, for the fans, and making a profit is nowhere in it’s list of priorities. This is a festival about keeping a whole genre of music alive and kicking. How else would you ever get to see the likes of DANGER DANGER, FIREHOUSE and PINK CREAM 69 in the UK? You may think that most of the bands at FIREFEST are in the ‘past-it’ category, but as many of their performances proved, they may be gone, but by those loyal enough to stick around, they certainly aren’t forgotten, and most can still put on a kick ass show.
Saturday 25th October
For the first time this year, the festival ran over 2 days, a Saturday and Sunday. Playing to an already packed to the rafters Rock City, Saturday’s early bands all put in a decent showing, including a tight, if not earth-shattering display from LA rockers TALON (3.8/5.0) and a fantastic first UK appearance from another LA band, LOUD & CLEAR (4.5/5.0). I hadn’t heard the band before, but I instantly fell in love with the majestic ‘Ghosts of Summer’, while other tracks like ‘Disc Connected’ and the anthemic ‘I Wanna Rock With You’ left a lasting impression. Frontman Jess Harnell has a terrific voice, and although I didn’t know quite how to take their cover of JOURNEY’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ to the music of METALLICA’s ‘Enter Sandman’ – LOUD & CLEAR were excellent, and definitely a band who were going to shift a few CDs at the merchandise stand.
This weekend was to be a treat for DANGER DANGER fans, with D2 scheduled to perform on the Sunday night, and their former frontman PAUL LAINE (4.3/5.0) in action on the Saturday, with virtuoso guitarist Rob Marcello, and bassist Bruno Ravel playing with PAUL LAINE as well as DANGER DANGER. Before his time with DANGER DANGER, Laine was a hot name in the AOR underground, and released the highly-acclaimed 1990 album ‘Stick it in Your Ear’ - an album which was performed in its entirety today. Considering not a note of the album had been played live since 1994, the performance was brilliant, not that you would expect anything less from such professionals. ‘We Are The Young’ and ‘Dorianna’ were classics of their time, and sounded great performed live, with Laine not missing a note, and Rob Marcello at his spectacular best with his mesmerising solo work.
Despite all the hype I read about the last VALENTINE (3.0/5.0) performance at FIREFEST VI, I wasn’t exactly blown away by the New York five-piece. Frontman Hugo Valenti bears a striking resemblance to legendary former JOURNEY frontman Steve Perry. He also sings in exactly the same style, and has all the Steve Perry mannerisms. If ever you were after the perfect JOURNEY tribute band singer, Hugo Valenti is your man! So what didn’t impress me about the VALENTINE set? Well, other than an enjoyable rendition of ‘Runnin’ on Luck Again’ - the set was just a little too wet for my liking. A few soppy ballads later and it was time to grab some food and a beer (that’s cheaper than the horrendously priced drinks in the venue) to fuel up in ready for the evening’s entertainment.
The last time I saw JEFF SCOTT SOTO (3.5/5.0) live he was fronting the mighty JOURNEY in front of 3,000 people. Now after leaving that band, he’s back concentrating on his own journey with a new solo record ‘Beautiful Mess’ released earlier in the year. Tonight’s set focused particularly on Soto’s solo material, with only one TALISMAN song (‘I’ll Be Waiting’). It would have been nice to have heard a number or two from Soto’s time with AXEL RUDI PELL and YNGWIE MALMSTEEN - but Soto was obviously here to promote his new record playing around half of the album. ‘If This is the End’ was the highlight of a sweet piano medley – but overall, JSS failed to live up to the high expectation I had before his set.
Playing the penultimate set of Saturday evening were German based melodic metal band PINK CREAM 69 (4.2/5.0) – the band that spawned current HELLOWEEN frontman Andi Deris. With Burnley born David Readman at the helm for the last 13 years, PC 69 have plodded on, releasing plenty of studio albums along the way, whilst maintaining a strong following in both Germany and Japan. The FIREFEST set was a fairly safe run through of some of the band’s best songs, including the excellent ‘One Way Out’ and terrific set closer ‘So Lonely’. The performance was tight and professional, if lacking a little bit of fire. Still, the crowd seemed to enjoy every moment and PINK CREAM 69 did more than an adequate job of warming everybody up for the headline act.
Unfortunately for TYKETTO (4.6/5.0), their outstanding debut album ‘Don’t Come Easy’ was released just a few years too late. Unleashed in 1991, just before grunge took over the world, the album didn’t make anything like the kind of impression it would have made if it had been released in the mid-80′s hair metal hey day. Still, on the basis of that album, and the awesome talents of frontman Danny Vaughn, TYKETTO have a huge underground following, as proven by the ecstatic reaction they got tonight. Opening with the perfect soundtrack for any rock lap-dancing club, ‘Lay Your Body Down’, TYKETTO quickly worked the crowd into a frenzy, and one which didn’t subside as the likes of ‘Wings’ and ‘Rescue Me’ kept things on a constant high.
A heart-wrenching rendition of classic ballad ‘Standing Alone’ was a real highlight, with Danny Vaughn reeling out the emotion and showing great appreciation for the reaction of the crowd. Vocally, he was note perfect as usual, and his band did him proud with PJ Zitarosa doing a good job covering for the AWOL Brooke St. James on guitar. ‘Burning Down Inside’ may have missed the keyboard intro, but the all-time classic ‘Forever Young’ missed nothing as it brought a close to a thoroughly enjoyable Saturday at FIREFEST. TYKETTO had delivered a top-notch headline performance, and with more one-off reunion shows in the pipeline, I for one will not miss the opportunity to see these boys again.
Sunday 26th October
Any Sunday morning hangovers had to be put aside as rockers BURN (4.0/5.0) stormed the stage at 12:20. Plenty of fans had got up early enough and they were given due reward as BURN came from down the road in Leicestershire to deliver an energetic display, enough to wake up the groggiest of onlookers. After such a grand display with PINK CREAM 69 less than 15 hours earlier, DAVID READMAN (3.0/5.0) was back up on stage again, playing the cream of his solo material crop. This simple, but effective melodic rock was a nice ease in to the day’s festivities, with a relaxed Readman enjoying a good crack with the crowd in-between songs.
Introduced as the latest Swedish sensation, H.E.A.T. (3.5/5.0) were next up, being a late addition to the bill after PRETTY MAIDS pulled out of the festival due to airline flight cancellations. However, this slot on the bill must have been cursed as vocalist Kenny Leckremo pulled out before the show to go into hospital for surgery on a heart problem. Still, the Swedes never give up, and ECLIPSE singer Erik Maternsson joined the band, with help from Pekka Heino of BROTHER FIRETRIBE. With such a short time for the singers to learn the material, a few covers were played to pad out the set, and it was nice to have a sing-a-long to EUROPE’s ‘Cherokee’ and JOURNEY’s ‘Separate Ways’ - and performances of ‘Livin on a Prayer’ and ‘Fool For Your Lovin’ (you know who they are by!) were considerably better than that of your average Saturday night pub band. With some great songs of their own such as ‘Straight For Your Heart’ and ‘Never Let Go’, all being well, it will be nice to see H.E.A.T. back to full strength when they return to the UK in January to support German power metal superheroes EDGUY – look out for that one!
Somehow unearthed from California were mid-80′s pop rock band ROX DIAMOND (2.0/5.0) Sorry boys, but this really was poor mans TOTO. The musicianship was fine, but the songs, nope, they just didn’t have them. After three or four songs of this drivel, it had to be time to go and find a good old English sunday roast.
With a full belly and and an eager eye on the rest of the night’s line-up, I arrived back in the venue in time to catch the terrific MITCH MALLOY (4.2/5.0). Wikipedia would have you know that this guy is most famous for his extremely brief stitent as vocalist for VAN HALEN back in 1996. Although never making a public appearance with the band, Malloy did re-record some classic VAN HALEN songs with the band – although the demos have never surfaced. Miles away from the world of VAN HALEN, today MITCH MALLOY performed some impressive cuts from his solo career, with the likes of ‘Forever’ and ‘Mission of Love’ standing out, both from his superb 1992 self titled debut release. As a frontman and singer, Malloy showed all the qualities that would make him appeal to a mega outfit like VAN HALEN. Whilst having a great AOR voice, he also has a fantastic rapport with the audience, and for most of the set, he really did have the FIREFEST crowd in the palm of his hands. A great performer, and who knows what might have happened with VAN HALEN if this guy had stuck around – one things for sure, he’d have done a lot better than Gary Cherone!
Having not played a live show for something like 20 years, melodic rock veterans WHITE SISTER (4.0/5.0) were in town to treat the crowd with the very best of their two 1980′s albums ‘White Sister’ and ‘Fashion by Passion’. Apart from original drummer Richard Wright, who died of cancer last year, this was the original line-up performing tonight, and they did Wright proud with a very impressive show, lapped up by the fans – a mix of people who had seen the band the last time they were in the UK (supporting FM in 1986), and people like myself who had never heard of the band. The material is typical, keyboard heavy, pop-rock – but with plenty of Y&T style punch. ‘Don’t Say That Your Mine’ was excellent, as was ‘Can’t Say No’, with great melodies and infectious hooks. An enjoyable set by a band who appear to deserve their cult status in the genre.
After his departure from JOURNEY a couple of years ago, Steve Augeri was back with the band he was in before he was selected to fill the shoes of Steve Perry. That band is of course TALL STORIES (3.3/5.0) whose 1991 self-titled debut album makes up the entirety of their discography. Considering he has fronted one of the world’s biggest and best rock bands, Augeri struggled to really get the crowd going, even though the material wasn’t too bad and the performance, as you’d expect, was musically spot on. What was a surprise is that for the encore, Augeri sung the JOURNEY classic ‘Stone in Love’ - rather than a song from his period with the band. Still, at least this one finally got the crowd a bit excited!
Like TYKETTO, New York party rockers DANGER DANGER (4.9/5.0) arrived just too late on the hair metal scene to milk the bombastic success that they would surely have had if they’d have surfaced just a few years earlier. On their self titled debut record, and 1991′s ‘Screw It’ – DANGER DANGER have some of the best hair metal anthems you could ever wish to hear. The rousing ‘Bang Bang’ had everybody singing along, and set closer, and rock club dancefloor filler ‘Monkey Business’ was the song of the weekend. Frontman Ted Poley was in sparkling form and his interaction with the crowd was awesome, as during ‘Afraid of Love’ he left the stage to walk around the crowd singing the song. Former vocalist Paul Laine joined the band for ‘Under the Gun’ - a nice surprise indeed, but it was undoubtedly Poley who was running the show as he showed his affection for the crowd with a wonderful performance of the beautiful ballad ‘I Still Think About You’.
After performing with Paul Laine’s solo outfit the day before, Rob Marcello was back on stage and was again up to his usual high standards, proving himself as the weekend’s best guitarist. My only (very) slight criticism of the set was the lack of live keyboards, with backing tracks used. Still, with a new album in the works, there’s a good chance that DANGER DANGER will return to the UK again in the future, and on the basis of the reaction they got in Nottingham, there will be plenty going along to see them. A brilliant live band and one that any fan of hair metal absolutely must see.
…and so to the final act of the weekend, FIREHOUSE (184.108.40.206) who were back to headline again as they did at FIREFEST I in 2005. After proving themselves before as reliable headliners, FIREHOUSE were not going to leave anyone disappointed. Their performance was always going to struggle to match the energy levels of DANGER DANGER, but in terms of technical precision, they could not be faulted. CJ Snare has one of the great voices of rock, and he showed he hasn’t lost anything as he ripped through the likes of ‘Reach for the Sky’ and ‘All She Wrote’.
Original members Bill Leverty on guitar and Michael Foster on drums both put in an impressive display, although with the curfew drawing close, there was perhaps no need for the drum solo from Foster. Snare played the keyboard to the lush ballad ‘Love of a Lifetime’, which was one of the more touching moments of the weekend. Still FIREHOUSE love to belt out the hair metal tunes, and ‘Shake & Tumble’ and ‘Rock on the Radio’ may be simple tunes, but they ain’t half effective.
Just as I was looking forward to my favourite FIREHOUSE number ‘Overnight Sensation’ in the encore – FIREFEST organisers Kieran Dargan and Bruce Mee came on the stage to thank the band, the crowd, the crew etc. for the weekend. So unfortunately that was all, but nobody could have gone home unhappy. FIREFEST was a terrific weekend, brilliantly organised, and an absolute pleasure to be a part of. Fingers crossed that we’ll all be back here in a years time with more AOR, melodic rock and hair metal to enjoy, but for now, it’s sayonara.
Review by James Allman